A Table of Gospels

This table lists many of the known canonical, apocryphal, and hypothetical gospels important to the study of early Christianity. Gospels in bold are canonical and gospels in italics do not exist today and are believed lost. They are grouped according to their type: as Sayings, Jewish Epistles, Jewish Gospels, the Synoptic Gospels, Roman Writings, the Johannine Gospels, Galatian Epistles, Egyptian Epistles, and Egyptian Coptic Gospels. The groups and the writings within the groups are both listed according to their subject matter: the top ones being most closely aligned with the Cynic philosophy of Antisthenes and Diogenes and the bottom ones being most closely aligned to Plato and the mystery cults of Gnosticism. Next to each writing is a description of what the author’s conception of Jesus was and a possible author or representative of the writing, along with the range of common estimations made by scholars for the date of the gospel. The writings are numbered according to my own hypothetical estimations of when they were written.

Gospel Conception of Jesus Author/Representative
Sayings of Jesus
1. Sayings of Matthew (Q?) “Wise philosopher” Matthai the Disciple (Q: 40-80)
?. Coptic Gospel of Thomas Hidden mystery James the Just (50-140)
Jewish Epistles
?. Didache Treatise God’s Servant Syrian Church (50-120)
?. Epistle to the HebrewsNew Moses (Priest) Barnabbas? Priscilla? (50-95)
6. Essene Apocalypse (Rev.) Lamb of God John of Giscala? (68-70?)
Jewish Gospels
?. Gospel of the Egyptians Savior Salome (the ascetic) (80-150)
2. Coptic Gospel of Hebrews Hidden mystery James the Just (80-150)
Synoptic Gospels
?. Gospel of Nazarenes (Matthew)New Moses? Ebionites (Jerusalem) (100-160)
8. Gospel of Matthew New Moses Peter (Antioch) (80-100)
7. Gospel of Mark Son of Man Paul (Syria?, Rome?) (73-140)
4. Cross Gospel (Peter) Docetic Son of God Peter? (50-140?)
?. Gospel of Peter Historic Son of God Early Coptic Church? (73-160)
14. Gospel of Luke-ActsHistoric Son of God Presbyter Church (Greece) (80-160)
?. Gospel of the Lord (Luke) Docetic Son of God Marcion (Paul; Galatia) (80-160)
Roman Writings
9. First Epistle of Clement Christ and Lord Clement of Rome (80-140)
?. Shepherd of Hermas God’s Servant Roman Church (100-160)
Johannine Gospels
5. Signs Gospel (Proto-John) New Moses (Rabbi) Mary Magdalene (50-90)
15. Gospel of Cerinthus (John 1) New Moses (Rabbi) Cerinthus (Egypt; Ephesus) (90-140)
16. Gospel of John (John 2) Word made flesh John the Eldar (Ephesus) (90-140)
23. Diatessaron Word made flesh Justin Martyr/Tatian (173)
Galatian Epistles
24. Pastorals & 2 Peter Historic Son of God Irenaeus (Paul, Peter) (100-160)
19. Polycarp to Phillipians Savior & High Priest Polycarp (Galatia) (110-140)
18. Epistles of Ignatius (long version) Historic Son of God Ignatius of Antioch (105-115)
17. Epistles of Ignatius (short version) Historic Son of God Ignatius of Antioch (105-115)
13. First & Second Epistles of John Historic Son of God John the Elder (Ephesus) (90-120)
?. General Epistles Christ and Lord James, Jude, Peter (70-120)
?. Epistle of Luke (Acts) Christ and LordPresbyters of Ephesus (Acts 20:17)
?. Essene Apocalypse of JohnChrist and LordJohn of Giscala? (67-70?)
11. Apocalypse of John (Rev.)Word of GodJohn of Patmos? Cerinthus? (Ephesus) (90-95)
12. First Epistle of John Word made flesh John the Eldar (Ephesus) (90-120)
?. Pauline Epistles (Presbyter version) Spiritual RedeemerPaul, Ireneaus (Galatia) (50-180)
3. Pauline Epistles (Marcionite version)Spiritual RedeemerPaul, Marcion (Galatia) (50-130)
Egyptian Epistles
?. Epistle of Barnabas Christ and Lord Barnabas of Alexandria (70-131)
16. Second Epistle of Clement Christ and Lord Clement of Rome (130-160)
Egyptian Coptic Gospels
20. Coptic Gospel of MaryHidden mystery Mary Magdalene (120-180)
21. Coptic Gospel of Judas Hidden mystery Cainites (130-170)
22. Coptic Gospel of Truth Hidden mystery Valentinus (140-180)
?. Coptic Gospel of Philip Hidden mystery Valentinus? (180-250)

1. Sayings of Matthew: The early 2nd century Christian, Papias, student to John the Elder and teacher of Irenaeus, is the first to refer to Matthew and Mark. Papias identifies the “Sayings of Matthew,” as the first Christian writing, which he says was written in “Hebrew.” These sayings may in fact be the same sayings as Q, found in the Gospel of Matthew. These sayings may have been added to the Gospel of Matthew, which could explain why that gospel became associated with Matthew. Matthew also becomes a more significant in the Gospel of Matthew, going from a non-descript disciple in the Gospel of Mark to becoming the tax collector previously identified as Levi. The Coptic Gospel of Thomas says that Matthew saw Jesus as a “wise philosopher,” which fits in with the cynic nature of the Q Sayings.

3. Epistles of Paul: Referred to by most Biblical scholars as Proto-Gnostic or Semi-Gnostic. Jesus is pictured as a spiritual redeemer in 1 Corinthians, hung on a tree by archons, “powers of this world,“ which can be translated as either worldly rulers or demons (2:6-8). The first interpretation is consistent with Pontius Pilate; the second interpretation is consistent with the Hellenistic Savior God. A third possibility is using it as double-entendre to link the two together. Galatians and 1 Corinthians stresses that Paul’s authority comes from the resurrected Jesus and not from Cephas, James or John. There are at least two versions of Paul’s epistles, the longer canonical version and the shorter Marcionite version. According to canonical version, Jesus’ death means Levitical laws no longer need to be followed. Galatians has Paul admit he will follow the Law for the purpose of converting Jews, even though he is not under the law, although he demands that his Gentile converts not follow the Law, even the 4th Commandment for observing the Sabbath, or else they will be fully judged by the Law. Men and women should not divorce due to the coming Apocalypse. The epistles quote Greek philosophers like Euripides but never quotes the Gospel Jesus. Knowledge of the Eucharist is said to have been given to Paul through a vision. The epistles are the earliest scripture that refers to the “god of this world,” the devil, as the one who is leading unbelievers. Paul is made to denigrate the need of baptism but still reluctantly administers it himself. He identifies this world as the evil “world of the flesh,” unlike most Jews, who believe the earth is good by virtue of it’s creation.

4. Gospel of Mark (Sources: Peter?): Papias said the this gospel was written by John Mark, who acted as Peter’s translator. The First Epistle of Peter also contains a hail from Peter to Mark as his “son” (5:13). In this gospel, Jesus is pictured as a human prophet who will return as a divine archangel, “the Son of Man,” as described in the Books of Enoch and Daniel. He is proclaimed Son of God at his Baptism. Salvation comes from following 9 of the 10 Commandments (minus keeping the Sabbath) and giving to the poor. Jesus follows Levitical laws but promotes a semi-lax understanding of them with the exception of marriage. Men or women should not divorce, presuming women have the ability to divorce their husbands, which the Torah does not give. Jesus identifies Philistine Baal-Zebub with Job's Satan. Mark’s emphasizes servitude instead of factionism (Mark 9:40-41; 10:43). Jesus is killed for cleansing the Temple of sacrifices. Mark is a missionary who is critical of James and John for wanting to rule instead of serve. Peter is the first to confess Jesus as the Christ but denies him in the end. Papias says Mark recorded the events as told by Peter but changed the order of the events. The Gospel of Mark, according to Papias, is an edit of his own design that Peter neither liked nor disliked.

?. Gospel of Peter: A fragment of the apocryphal Gospel of Peter was found in a monk’s grave in 1816, including a passion narrative of Jesus’ execution that is far more detailed than the canonical gospels. The gospel if mentioned by Serapion, the Bishop of Antioch, in 190 A.D. Scholars have noted it’s Docetic spin, with Jesus making no noise when being crucified “as if feeling no pain.” as well as saying he was “taken up” rather than died. This gospel assigns much more prominence towards Mary Magdalene and assigns the blame for Jesus’ crucifixion on Herod and the “Jews.” By comparison, Pilate is completely exonerated, which shows that by the time this gospel was written, Pilate was already on track towards canonization in the Coptic church. It is generally accepted that it is independent of the canonical gospels and is analogous to the Gospel of Mark and the core of John’s gospel. All three appear to have use an older passion narrative.

6. Gospel of Matthew (Sources: Mark + Q + M): This gospel was created by taking 90% of Mark, adding the Q sayings, and some independent material known only to “Matthew” (M). Jesus is pictured as a divine prophet, one even greater than Moses. He is proclaimed the Son of God to his step-father Joseph by an angel of God at conception. Salvation comes from following the Commandments and giving to the poor. Jesus warns not to deviate from Levitical law, even in the slightest, and gives special authority to Peter. Men should not divorce, except in the case of infidelity, but women can not divorce.

Gospel of the Nazarenes: A lost gospel that Epiphanius wrote of at the end of the 300s, which he says was written in Hebrew. This gospel is said to be a combination of the Synoptic gospels, possibly very much like Matthew. It was said some of them saw Jesus as a human prophet while others believed like the Gnostics and saw him as a spiritual being. Jesus is pictured as a human prophet and true interpreter of the Law. Both John the Baptist and Jesus are seen as vegetarians. John the Baptist eats “mana,” an unknown substance given to the Hebrews in the desert by God, instead of locusts (which is only one letter difference and may have been a mistranslation). Jesus says that he has come to abolish sacrifices. It's been suggested to have been written by the mid-second century in Syria or Palestine. The Ebionites believed Paul was an apostate.

?. Egerton Gospel (Sources: unknown): The Egerton Gospel, or “Papyrus Egerton 2,” is heavily damaged and only consists of a few fragments of stories. The writing style of the gospel is closer to that of John than the Synoptics, but contains material not found in John that are in the Synoptic stories. However, there is no textual dependence on the Synoptic tradition. It contains a verse similar to one in John in which Jesus says “Do not think I came to accuse you before the Father. Your accuser is Moses, on whom your hopes are set” (5:45). However, in the Egerton Gospel Jesus is telling it to “the lawyers” instead of “the Jews.” It also contains a particularly Docetic feat of Jesus walking directly through people who want to stone him, similar to a verse found in Luke (4:30). It may be part of the Johannine tradition with stories that included parts that were later redacted, or it may be a completely independent tradition.

9. Gospel of John (Sources: Signs + John1 + John2): St. Irenaeus identified the author of the gospel as the disciple John. Today, the majority of biblical scholars, including Orthodox, Catholic, and Protestant, assert that the disciple John did not write the Gospel that bears his name. The Father of Church History also denied the connection, quoting Papias as differentiating between John the disciple and John the Elder, but the New Advent Catholic Encyclopedia takes the position that Papias and/or Eusebius was wrong and Ireneaus was right. Another indication that it was not written by John is that the Gospel of Mark assumes that “John, the son of Zebedee” is already dead (10:38-39). In the Gospel of John, the Last Supper is replaced by a small feast followed by Jesus washing the disciples’ feet. Jesus cleansing the Temple is placed earlier in the Gospel of John. John1 builds on Mark’s theme of servitude, but takes it to a new height, replacing the Last Supper (symbolizing ritual communion) with the Washing of the Feet (symbolizing servitude). As noted by the Catholic Encyclopedia, the fourth Gospel inserts or refers to every incident given in Mark which Luke has passed over, indicating that John2 may have been meant to harmonize the gospels.

Randal McCraw Helms also adduces three different layers of John, which he labels Signs, John1 and John2, with John1 being linked to the Gnostic teacher Cerinthus and John2 linked to John the Eldar, whose church was most interested with acknowledgement that Jesus “came into the flesh.”:

“Many deceivers, who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh, have gone out into the world. Any such person is the deceiver and the antichrist. Watch out that you do not lose what you have worked for, but that you may be rewarded fully. Anyone who runs ahead and does not continue in the teaching of Christ does not have God; whoever continues in the teaching has both the Father and the Son. If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not take him into your house or welcome him. Anyone who welcomes him shares in his wicked work.” -2 John 1:7-11

Helms states, “we need to note that part of the purpose of Irenaeus was to attack the teachings of Cerinthus, a Gnostic Christian teacher who lived in Ephesus at the end of the first century” (p. 162). Cerinthus was “educated in the wisdom of the Egyptians, taught that the world was not made by a primary God, but by a certain Power far separated from him... Moreover, after [Jesus'] baptism, Christ descended upon him in the form of a dove from the Supreme Ruler, and that then he proclaimed the Unknown Father, and performed miracles. But at last Christ departed from Jesus, and that then Jesus suffered and rose again, while Christ remained impassible, inasmuch as he was a spiritual being” (1.26.1). Irenaeus himelf stated that the purpose of John at Ephesus was to remove the error of Cerinthus.

The Catholic Magister Artium, Ramon K. Jusino in his online article “Mary Magdeline: Author of the First Gospel” makes a case for the earliest stratum, elsewhere called the Signs Gospel, having originally been associated with Mary Magdalene and later edited by Gnostics (John II):

“The oldest known commentary on the Fourth Gospel is that of the Gnostic Heracleon (d. 180). The Valentinian Gnostics appropriated the Fourth Gospel to such an extent that Irenaeus of Lyons (d. 202) had to refute their exegesis of it. Brown well notes the relationship between the Fourth Gospel and the early Christian Gnostics when he writes that there is ‘abundant evidence of familiarity with Johannine ideas in the...gnostic library from Nag Hammadi’ In contrast to this, Brown points out that clear use of the Fourth Gospel in the early church by ‘orthodox’ sources is difficult to prove (1979: 148)… In fact, the earliest indisputable ‘orthodox’ use of the Fourth Gospel was by Theophilus of Antioch, c. 180 A.D., by John 1, after which it became an embarrassment to a patriarchal church and so was changed so that the Beloved Disciple was a man…. It was Irenaeus who defended the apostolicity of the Fourth Gospel by appealing to a tradition circulating in Asia Minor [Turkey] which, he claimed, linked John of Zebedee to the Fourth Gospel… Irenaeus confused John of Zebedee with a presbyter from Asia Minor who was also named John. Secondly, Irenaeus claimed that he got his information about Johannine authorship of the Fourth Gospel when he was a child from Polycarp, bishop of Smyrna (d. 156) (Perkins: 946). The church tradition that established John as the author of the Fourth Gospel was based, primarily, on Irenaeus' childhood recollections!”

Following the work of the foremost Catholic biblical scholar, Raymond E. Brown, Jusino reconstructs a portrait of the Johannine group facing a crisis in which the church of Mary Magdeline is pressured to consolidate with the patriarchal church and so is forced to redact the gospel so that the Beloved Disciple is the mysterious unnamed male as presented in the current version. When this happens, the majority of the church breaks away, taking their tradition of Mary as the Beloved Disciple to Gnostic groups. This succession is referred to in the First Epistle of John:

“Dear children, this is the last hour; and as you have heard that the antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come. This is how we know it is the last hour. They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us.” -1 John 2:18-19

Jusino also notes that the antagonism between the anonymous disciple and Peter throughout the Gospel matches the kind of antagonism seen between Peter and Mary Magdalene in the Gnostic gospels. The final redactor adds an ending in which Peter is reinstated by the risen Jesus (21:15) to make up for this.9. Gospel of the Lord: This was a version of the Gospel of Luke that was used by the church of Marcion. Tertullian accused Marcion of “interpreting the scripture with a penknife.” The Catholic encyclopedia refers to Marcion as “perhaps the most dangerous foe Christianity has ever known.” He had originally been a bishop of Rome but when conflicts arose, he was excommunicated from the church. He was not a Gnostic, but eventually came to believe that Paul say two gods in scripture: Elohim, the Most High and the God of Jesus, and Yahweh, the Blind God who created the world that the Jews followed. Unlike Gnostics, he did not derive his beliefs from divine knowledge but from reading Paul’s letters and scripture. Like Gnostics, he was Docetic, believing that Jesus body as well as his crucifixion was only an illusion. He did not believe Jesus was the messiah because the messiah was to inaugurate a political kingdom for the Jews and Jesus came to inaugurate the spiritual kingdom of God. Being a rich shipmaster, he set up a church with the greatest degree of ecclesiastical organization paralleled to the Catholic church. Marcion believed that Paul was the only apostle to understand Jesus and believed that the God of Old Testament was not the God of Jesus but an ignorant Demiurge who created and ruled over the corrupt world of the flesh. He used what Catholics called a “mutilation” of Luke and 10 of Paul‘s epistles (not including 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, and Titus). This is said to be the first canon of New Testament scripture formed.

6. Gospel of Luke (Sources: Mark + L + Q): This gospel if about one-half Mark, one half independent material (L), and the Q sayings (with different interpretations than that of Matthew). Jesus is pictured as a divine prophet and proclaimed the Son of God at conception. Salvation comes from following the 9 Commandments and giving to the poor. Like Mark, Jesus follows a semi-lax understanding of the law except in the case of marriage. Both men or women can but should not divorce. McCraw Helms notes a strong interest in women’s issues as evidence for Luke having been written by a woman. This is the only gospel to say Jesus’ ministry was funded by women. There is heavy emphasizes on Paul’s equality between men-women, slave-free, Jews-Gentiles.

Coptic Gospel of Thomas: A “Secret Sayings” Gospel found in the Nag Hamadi library, reported in the text to have been written by Didymus Judas Thomas, who is said to be Jesus’ twin brother. Many of the sayings are known from the Synoptic Gospels. In this Gospel, When asked by the disciples who should lead them after he is gone, Jesus is quoted as saying, "No matter where you are you are to go to James the Just, for whose sake heaven and earth came into being." The author also compares his “Secret Jesus” to what other Christian sects believed through a discourse similar to Peter‘s “Confession of Christ“ from the Synoptic Gospels:

“Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Compare me to something and tell me what I am like.’
Simon Peter said to him, ‘You are like a just messenger [angel].’
Matthew said to him, ‘You are like a wise philosopher.’
Thomas said to him, ‘Teacher, my mouth is utterly unable to say what you are like.’
Jesus said, ‘I am not your teacher. Because you have drunk, you have become intoxicated from the bubbling spring that I have tended.’
And he took him, and withdrew, and spoke three sayings to him. When Thomas came back to his friends they asked him, ‘What did Jesus say to you?’
Thomas said to them, ‘If I tell you one of the sayings he spoke to me, you will pick up rocks and stone me, and fire will come from the rocks and devour you.’”

?. Coptic Gospel of the Hebrews: A lost gospel which has been accorded special honor to James the Just. A Coptic manuscript of Cyril of Jerusalem gives quotes from it, reading, “When Christ wished to come upon the earth to men, the good Father summoned a mighty power in heaven, which was called [the archangel] Michael, and entrusted Christ to the care thereof. And the power came into the world and it was called Mary, and Christ was in her womb 7 months.”

13. Gospel of Truth: Said by church fathers to have been written by one of the followers of Valentinus, this Coptic gospel was found in the Nag Hammadi library. Valentinus studied under Theodas, a purported pupil of Paul. The text is written with strong poetic skill and a heavily cyclical presentation of themes. The text describes the Gnostic idea of creation, and the origin of evil as being a by product of the fall of Sophia, thus becoming Norea, since ignorance breeds fear and fear is a fog in which error gains power. It then describes Jesus as having been sent down by God to remove the ignorance, but error (personified) gets angry at this, and nails Jesus to a tree. It describes Jesus acting as a teacher confounding the other scribes and teachers, and claims that they were foolish since they tried to understand the world by analyzing the law. It also proceeds to describe how it is knowledge which grants salvation, which constitutes eternal rest, describing ignorance as a nightmare. A reconstruction can be found here.

14. Diatessaron: The earliest known gospel to be sanctioned by the early church, the Diatessaron (Greek for “Coming Through Four“), written in 173 by an Assyrian named Tatian, who was a “hearer” of St. Justin Martyr. Also referred to as Evangelion da Mehallete (“The Gospel of the Mixed“), the text is a combination of the four gospels into one harmonized gospel, similar to the way four Old Testament sources have been harmonized into one Torah. The Diatessaron was written in the Syriac language, but a Latin version of it would spread out around the west as well. Around 160, Justin sent Tatian from Rome to reform the Syrian church in Odessa (northeast of Antioch), prohibiting meat, wine, and marriage. The Syrian church’s Doctrine of Addai, from 400 A.D., records that Tatian set down that the only books to be read were the Diatessaron, the Pauline Epistles, and the Book of Acts. The doctrine adds that Paul’s epistles had been sent by Peter from Rome and Acts had been sent by the disciple John from the Athenian city of Ephesus. Which Pauline Epistles were promulgated is not known for sure, but it could not included the late Pastorals (Titus, etc.), which allowed the eating of meat, drinking wine, and marriage. The Diatessaron’s chronology departed wildly from that of all four gospels, but manages to include about 72% of the combined whole. Some things, like the two irreconcilable genealogies of Matthew and Luke, had to be dropped. The Diatessaron would continue to be the official gospel of the Syrian church until 423, when the bishop of Cyrrhus, Theodoret, had over 200 copies destroyed and replaced with the four gospels under the order of the bishop of Edessa. Theodoret would later become embroiled in a Christological controversy, taking the side of the heretic Nestorius against St. Cyril of Alexandria.

15. Gospel of Philip: A Sayings Gospel from the Nag Hammadi library in which only Philip and Mary Magdalene make an appearance. Like Thomas, some sayings are found in the Synoptic gospels. Other sayings appear to be quite mysterious. The Gospel tells of Jesus kissing his “companion” Mary Magdalene, which has caused much speculation as to whether Jesus was married to her.